LUCKNOW, India -- Authorities were investigating Wednesday how more than 100 bodies, many of them children, ended up floating in an offshoot of the Ganges River in northern India.
Officials do not suspect a crime, and instead believe the dead were given water burials. It is Indian custom not to cremate unwed girls, and many poor people cannot afford cremation.
The 102 bodies found floating near the village of Pariyar in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh were too badly decomposed for autopsies or identification, District Magistrate Saumya Agarwal said. DNA testing is being done to determine where the bodies might have come from.
"Once we will complete all the legal formalities, these bodies will be buried to avoid spread of diseases," Sub-Divisional Magistrate Saryua Shukla said.
Officials were questioning how so many bodies could be discovered at the same time. While it is illegal to dispose of the dead in rivers, some practicing Hindus believe that giving an unwed girl a water burial will ensure she is born again into the family. Poverty also drives people to conduct water burials to avoid the cost of cremation, which at a minimum of about $40 is far above a poor person's monthly wage.
Villagers first noticed the bodies on Tuesday, when many had become stuck on a river bank with dogs and vultures circling the area. The narrow river breaks off from the Ganges just before passing Pariyar, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the state capital of Lucknow.
"It seems these were in water for very long," police officer Ram Chander Sahu said.